Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
February / March 1998


Mapping for the next 100 years
by Jean Smith

Across Colorado volunteers and professionals are applying the principles of conservation biology in mapping potential core reserves and habitat connectors. The Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project (SREP) coordinates these efforts in collaboration with Sierra Club and other environmental organizations. It is a very effective grassroots coalition, with a wide range of expertise and many volunteers in the field who are all focused on the same goal: protection and restoration of the region's native biodiversity. We know this is possible, although it may take 100 years.

In the early 90s, farsighted people like Dave Foreman and Michael Soul of The Wildlands Project encouraged SREP to help bring the vision of a North American network of habitat reserves to fruition. SREP in turn looked for local organizations for on-the-ground work. Today there are ten mapping groups directly affiliated with SREP and many other organizations who collaborate on specific projects.

Sierra Club's Involvement
Sierra Club has been one of the strongest partners in these efforts. For example, the Uncompahgre Group was instrumental in designing a reserve plan for the Uncompahgre Plateau, and the Weminuche Group has provided leadership for the citizens' management proposal for the San Juan National Forest. Mt. Sopris Group is designing the habitat reserves for the White River National forest. Half of the 50 volunteers who mapped the Arkansas and Platte watersheds in 1997 are from Indian Peaks, Rachel Carson, Enos Mills, High Plains, South Platte, Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak and Sangre de Cristo Groups. In addition to volunteers, various sources of Sierra Club funds have been available to cover costs of the activities.

Mappers Foster Biological Integrity
The Upper Arkansas and South Platte Project, which I coordinate, is an illustration of how mappers contribute to long term biological integrity of our ecosystems. In the last three years more than 100 volunteer mappers have been trained to identify the best areas for future habitat reserves. The objectives were to:

Today boundaries of 50 roadless or lightly roaded areas are documented on topo maps and geographic information systems (GIS) data files. These potential core reserves range from low elevation pinon-juniper and ponderosa pine habitats to high tundra. They are spread across public lands in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and BLM Royal Gorge Resource Area. Tight clusters, such as the South Platte corridor, are particularly valuable as relatively continuous habitat for wildlife.

UASPP is positioned for two important activities: 1) The draft core areas, along with the work of the other groups, will be incorporated into SREP's bioregion wide design, - the building blocks for the larger picture of future diversity from Casper Wyoming to Santa Fe New Mexico. 2) We have hard data for management proposals, particularly for the Forest Service which is just beginning to work on its forest plan revision. Teams will create specific management proposals and outreach activities.

Bioregion Framework
While local groups are at work, SREP continues to provide scientific expertise, GIS mapping services and a broad framework for the whole bioregion. In May, SREP will release a major analysis of the state of the Southern Rockies ecosystems. The causes of increased fragmentation, decline in native species, imbalance in representative habitats and similar issues will be liberally illustrated by maps and photos. During the spring and summer, public events will be held throughout Colorado to highlight the challenge implicit in the analysis and motivate people to action.

What You Can Do:

Many groups, including UASPP, hold their volunteer training in April and May. A mapping slide show with script is available at any time, and SREP wants to share the State of the Ecosystems Report with your group. If you are interested in any of these opportunities, get in touch with Jean Smith at (303) 388-3378 or